Ruth's Manuvas


My musical ramblings – gig and album reviews, music news and views

Metronomy: Birmingham Hare & Hounds – Sunday 23 January



A packed crowd in the room above the Hare & Hounds in Birmingham patiently waited with bleary Sunday eyes for the Brighton four-piece. Patiently because despite the late start, most already knew Metronomy’s carefully woven synths, driving bass and falsetto harmonies would be more than worth the wait.

Originally hailing from Totnes, Metronomy have created their signatune over years from carefully mis-matched chords, unusual beats and a quirky on-stage presence. And on the night, they chose to exploit the best bits from the 2008 masterpiece Nights Out, leaving out any reference to debut Pip Paine (Pay the £5000 you owe). A large handful of gems from their third album, The English Riviera, were also given an airing.

Arriving on stage with trademark chest-height lights, the circular jewellery pierced the darkness in time with the band’s off-beats – another feature that’s now synonymous with Metronomy.

Kicking off at full pace with On The Motorway then My Heart Rate Rapid, the repertoire of complex bleeps and tweeps, changing drum rhythms and robot dance moves were perfectly offset by the foursomes faux-nerd look. Whipping the vast student contingency into an early frenzy, they force an army of voices to call back at them, ‘It won’t be long’, which had a faint echo of a 2011 prediction about it.

Formal introductions were made to the new material via latest single, She Wants – a track punctuated by funk grooves and deep bass keyboards that instantly blew the speakers with a proud, but marginally embarrassed acceptance. The Look is a new frontrunner with its insistent fairground piano loop and repeated chorus lines that force a shuffle from even the most two-left-footed. But all of the latest editions feel as though they’ve had more soul shoehorned into their nooks and crannies, with deeper bassline hooks injected by Gbenga Adelekan’s guitar and Joseph Mount’s electronica. There’s also a smidgen less staccato, but it’s all served up in just as quirky a fashion.

On The Motorway delivered more falsetto, while Holiday’s forlorn tales of tussles of the heart were a perfect match for the pulse of the Blondie-rhythmed guitars. Beneath the on-stage antics and dance moves, Heartbreaker stood out as the most impeccable pop song on Nights Out. And it carries the imprint that Metronomy have now kept to propel them into the third album.

There was also time for A Thing For Me’s layers of oom-pah synth and metronomic drum rolls. Its complex rhythms still serve as a reminder that the band don’t shy away from tackling things others might not dare to try live, let alone pull off so effortlessly.

On Dancefloors – a sorrowful soundtrack to a bad night out – was given as a gift from the band to anyone who had work the next morning. A fitting pre-encore track, it drowned the four walls in melancholic loops that perfectly offset Mount’s despairing, ‘I want to get more from this than you’. Radio Ladio then provided balance as the finale, with the foursome acting as cheerleaders to coax their audience into an ecstatic, dancing end to the Birmingham leg of what should become a landmark tour for them.

Metronomy might just be the perfect antidote to the creeping fear of Monday morning. However, there is more to them than the on-stage angular dancing and light-adornments that give them an idiosyncratic air. These eccentricities do blend seamlessly with their sound, but look beneath the things that make them such a great aural and visual spectacle, and you find that Metronomy have been quietly chipping away, making a slow and steady impact on their genre for a number of years now. But this year could well be the one when their art-electro soundtrack gathers many more followers who will dance to their beat.


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The Spine Tingler #4: Erland and the Carnival – Map of an Englishman

Map of an Englishman is the first the new material from Erland and the Carnival’s second album, Nightingale.

Named after a piece of artwork from Grayson Perry, the video is masterfully layered with etched drawings of bodily organs, which shrink and expand over the video to mimick the band’s  tale of  lost love.

Erland Cooper – a folk guitarist and singer from the remote Scottish island of Orkney – has written beautifully simplistic and direct lyrics that tell a story. Initially, this appears to be a whole new direction for the folk ensemble that includes ex-The Verve Simon Tong, and  David Nock, formerly of The Orb and Paul McCartney’s The Fireman. But beneath an unmistakably more heavily produced, deep, and rounded sound, the track is made up of the same nuts and bolts of whirring instruments, plodding rhythms and organs that made the first album such a magical listen.

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Cloud Nothings: Cloud Nothings – album review

Cloud Nothings: Cloud Nothings

Cloud Nothings’ self-titled debut breezes in like a welcome breath of fresh air, just weeks after Britain’s answer to Lady Gaga and My Bloody Valentine’s musical cousin were labelled as 2011’s musical compass.

Signed in the UK to Wichita, Dylan Baldi’s scratchy recording gives it the unpolished warmth of an album recorded two or three decades ago. And its catchy indie-rooted hooks, punk-engorged riffs and lo-fi tendencies give it a teenage bedroom-pop effect that makes it instantly likeable.

The upbeat Understand At All and Not Important are cut from the same cloth. Baldi’s guitar feels unforced and his vocals, ranging from almost helium-drenched to huskily shouted, inject sing-a-long lines and sunny days into his music.

At just over a minute apiece – and delivered in two short, sharp blasts – Heartbeat and Rock are refreshing Pixies’ Vamos-tinged interludes. The glorious guitars are so blisteringly paced that frankly, his declarations of, ‘You loved me but now we’re all dead’, could be saying something far less meaningful and it probably wouldn’t matter.

Sometimes the Ohioan takes you back to The Hives, where the song steamrollers through your aural cavities and rolls around at maximum pace and maximum volume. Then the Best Coast, drawling, melodic vocals haul the tracks wonderfully back from over-familiarity.

One of the highlights of the 11 is Forget You All The Time. It’s so melodic and lo-fi that the lyrics could come straight from the mouth of Kim Deal herself.  You’re Not That Good At Anything and Been Through also bear the same hallmarks of a teenager who’s been heavily influenced by doses of Pixies, and generous helpings of 70s and 80s punk.

Occasionally, the album does go all ‘American teen’. But Dylan’s punk vocals, cleverly combined with a love of airy, jangly riffs and re-crafted lo-fi, should melt many a cynic’s heart that has been frosted over by the chosen would-be big hitters for 2011.


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Ruthsmanuvas: albums for 2011 vs 2010

Just over one week into the New Year and 2010 seems like ages ago. The thing is I’m still so attached to some of last year’s albums that the class of 2011 is going to have to produce some pretty special stuff to make the products of its musical blood, sweat and tears a permanent headphones fixture.

There were a few albums that got shoehorned into my top five list come December 31, niftily sidestepping competition from Frightened Rabbit’s Winter of Mixed Drinks, Errors’ Come Down With Me and Hot Chip’s One Life Stand.

5. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

This 16-song epic flew onto my iPod in August, finally hitting that sweet spot with songs full of charm and honesty that packed euphoric whirlwind violins and piano chords.

It was a watershed of sorts for many people’s love of the American seven piece who, in the past, had struggled to straddle the line between the thrill of the orchestral Funeral, and the seriousness and lyrical craft of Neon Bible.

4. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

With an egocentric title of which you’d expect nothing less, LCD Soundsystem proclaimed this album in May as their self-indulgent last.

It’s not as instantly gratifying as Sound of Silver, but here, James Murphy and co definitely achieved their holy grail of balance between pretentiousness and perfectionism to create musical chemistry. From the stark opener, Dance Yrself Clean, that drops listeners off a spine-tingling bass cliff after three minutes, to the Bowie-esque All I Want and the sentimentality of Home that gives the band a softer edge, it’s a sublime album.

3. Caribou – Swim

Dan Snaith’s collection of intricately placed beats and stark lyrical proclamations made this record an unmissable, refreshing collection of dance tunes that completely challenged those flailing in its wake.

It’s almost obsessive compulsive in sound, and a total u-turn from the folky Andorra. It packs everything; from Odessa’s insistent beat that sounds as if it’s being played through a crackly stylus, Sun’s mesmerising repetitions and Mr Scruff jazz rhythms, to Bowls’ Tibetan percussion and mathematically timed chimes. Then there is Jamelia’s soulful loop and questions of ‘Am I good enough?’ that wrap this up into an album full of elegant musical nuances.

2. The National – High Violet

This one felt like a slow burner – so much so that it smouldered away in my music collection for a while before finally exploding into the consciousness in November.

Perhaps this, their fifth long-play album, mirrors the fact the band have been far from an overnight success. The truth is, High Violet is a masterful collection of melancholic writing. oozing with sorrow and beauty that sits just perfectly with Matt Berninger’s absolutely apt baritone singing voice. And in Bloodbuzz Ohio there might just be the lyric of the year with, “I still owe money, to the money, to the money I owe.” Just perfect.

1. Foals – Total Life Forever

The award for surprise of the year went to Foals in May, with a bolt out of the blue that delivered a mature, sensitive, yet wholly signature-sounding record.

It achieved the holy grail of completely bettering a debut whose math-rock rhythms and carnival quality felt so good it could’ve easily forced them to peak too soon. Some would argue TLF is a departure from the enigmatic, tautly plucked brilliance of Antidotes. In truth, they’ve still retained the percussion led breaks that burst midway tracks like sunlight through opening curtains, not to mention the rhythmic lyrics that double up as instruments in themselves. It’s just that this album also injects soaring, aching guitar riffs and pigeon-toed bashfulness that makes the listener feel they now begin to understand this Oxford quintet.

This all makes last year a tough act to follow – 2011 doesn’t whiff of box office big hitters. But over the next 12 months there are some albums I’ll be on the edge of my seat waiting to hear:

1. Cut Copy – Zonoscope

The long-awaited follow up to In Ghost Colours, Zonoscope is the Melbourne-based trio’s third album that’ll undoubtedly bless us with more sunshine-soaked disco electro pop.

It’s taken three years for this to drop, but if Take Me Over is anything to go by, we can expect healthy dollops of catchy synths, positivity-injected lyrics and more of the same ingredients that put the previous album near the top of record of the year lists last time.

2. Metronomy – The English Riviera

With an album title that either holds a slice of Devonshire coastline in basked glory or gentle mockery, this is another record that’s been a long time coming.

Nights Out was a further favourite offering from 2008 – it had charming dischords, 8-bit beats and riffs, and film set sound effects shoehorned into the fabric of its tracks. The album also boasted the instantly likeable Heartbeat and On Dancefloors that both felt like the soundtrack to a bad night out – or a broken heart. Oh how we wept and danced along with them.

3. The Avalanches – TBC

This album has been a year-on-year promise from a band that brought us Since I Left You over 10 years ago. But if the more convincing- of late – rumours are true, it makes them impossible to miss.

From an album that brought us that flute-led loop on Since I Met You, to the funk-beats of Radio – the band mixed sheer madness with sultry French Moulin Rouge, soul, jazz rhythms and more samples than you could shake a fist at. That is, all played through this scratchy filter that felt like you were sitting in a flat listening to the most brilliant house party though the walls.

4. The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar

Thankfully, there are now only a couple of weeks to go before the release of this album that A Balloon Called Moaning EP has whetted the appetite for.

With an epic maelstrom of indie rock and pint-sized Ritzy Bryan’s breathy and robust vocals, Wales and London-based trio, The Joy Formidable’s debut should match the swathe of expectation that has gathered around their music over the last 18 months. With tracks like Austere, Cradle, Whirring and The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade, their blistering paced drums and delicious wall of sound is unlikely to pass without impact.

5. Battles – TBC

Even the first listen to Battles’ Mirrored – the band’s first album proper – spoke of the madness within.

With an album cover comprising of instruments caged behind a glass box; it conjured images that this supergroup of four might just need to be reined in to maintain sanity. The tracks echoed that. It was post-punk, glam-rock, sci-fi computational circuit-boards, dance – and more that you can’t even describe because it’s simply in a category of its own. And that’s why I want more this year of whatever Battles were on in 2007…

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